Committee for Children Blog

New Laws: Responding to Trauma with Social-Emotional Learning

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children affected by trauma can improve with social-emotional learning

Trauma is here, there, and everywhere. Sadly, it’s a growing concern and conversation topic across the United States. Mass shootings. Hurricane havoc. Teen suicides. USA Gymnastics’ sex abuse scandal. Opioid crisis. Cyberbullying on the rise. School gun violence. Adults and children are learning about and struggling with the effects of trauma.

How do we best serve communities that have experienced trauma? How do we best serve the children? In the education sector, we’re turning to trauma-informed practice.

Trauma-informed practice has been around for decades (at least since the 1990s) but has taken off recently in policy circles and now is permeating schools and school systems, mapping closely to social-emotional learning (SEL). Social-emotional learning supports trauma-informed practice, and vice versa, to ensure all students can feel safe and ready to learn.

Utah Success Story

Utah’s Tooele County School District used social-emotional learning and other supports to improve the climate and community after a violent trauma. The result was a marked decrease in suicidality and substance abuse, even while all other counties in the state saw increases.

Recent State Laws Addressing Trauma with Social-Emotional Learning

Recently, lawmakers have caught on to trauma-informed care and its relationship to SEL as well, at both state and federal levels.

Illinois passed a law that allows early childhood programs to use training, technical support, and professional development resources to improve the ability of school staff to promote social-emotional development and behavioral health, as well as to address challenging behaviors and to understand trauma and trauma-informed care.

Ohio has a bill pending that:

  • requires local boards of education to adopt curriculum for in-service training in social-emotional development and trauma-informed care
  • requires school personnel to complete that training
  • requires local boards of education to approve a tiered support program focused on fostering positive school climate, which can include increased trauma-informed care, supplemental mental health, and social-emotional development resources

Federal Laws

At the federal level, Congress passed and President Trump signed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, which is in direct response to the opioid epidemic. The bill authorizes $50 million to help state education agencies, school districts, and tribal governments increase evidence-based trauma support services and mental health care. A grant recipient can use these funds in a variety of ways, including, for example, for “collaborative efforts between school-based service systems and trauma-informed support and mental health service systems to provide, develop, or improve prevention, screening, referral, and treatment and support services to students” or “to implement schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports, or other trauma-informed models of support.”

Because of the link between trauma-informed and social-emotional learning, Committee for Children urged Congress to include and keep language in that legislation that accounts for SEL as part of our communities’ response to trauma. We were successful. The 2018 law allows for funds to be used for teacher professional development that “fosters safe and stable learning environments that prevent and mitigate the effects of trauma, including through social and emotional learning….”

Trauma-Informed Care Legislation (as of October 4, 2018)

How have other states worked to advance and support trauma-informed practice? And which federal laws cover this? Keep informed or advocate for child well-being issues: sign up for Committee for Children policy alerts.

Here’s recent legislation related to trauma-informed care and child well-being:

US S 774: Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act of 2017

What the bill does: Establishes four entities: (1) the Interagency Task Force on Trauma-Informed Care; (2) the National Law Enforcement Child and Youth Trauma Coordinating Center; (3) the Native American Technical Assistance Resource Center to provide trauma-informed technical assistance; and (4) Medicaid demonstration projects to test innovative, trauma-informed approaches for delivering early and periodic screening, diagnostic services, and treatment services to eligible children. Further, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must encourage states to collect and report data on adverse childhood experiences. Status: Introduced in the Senate on 3-29-17

US S 2680: Opioid Crisis Response Act

What the bill does: Mandates a comprehensive approach to addressing the opioid crisis and its impacts on children, families, and communities. Specifically, it creates a task force on trauma-informed supports to recommend best practices for supporting children and families who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing trauma; creates a grant to increase support services and to better integrate mental health care in schools, including the use of SEL, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), and other trauma-informed models of support; allows mental health and behavioral health providers participating in the National Health Services Corps to provide services in schools and other community-based settings. Status: Signed by the president (10-24-18); updated 10-25-18

California AB 2691

What the bill does: Establishes in the Department of Education the Trauma-Informed Schools Initiative to address the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on educational outcomes of students. The initiative must provide information regarding the trauma-informed care approach to school districts, develop a guide for public schools on how to become trauma-informed schools, and offer training on the trauma-informed care approach. Status: Vetoed by governor on 9-20-18

District of Columbia B594

What the bill does: Requires the Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to provide an array of supports to assist local education agencies (LEAs) and schools to adopt trauma-informed disciplinary practices and requires OSSE to provide school systems with regular professional development. Requires OSSE to collaborate with other government agencies and LEAs, schools, and postsecondary educational institutions to create a “trauma-informed educator” degree or certificate program. Status: Became law on 7-12-18

Indiana SB 367

What the bill does: Requires the Department of Education to conduct a statewide needs assessment survey concerning student service providers and how schools are addressing the social and emotional needs of students (titled: Trauma Sensitive Schools). Status: In Committee on Education and Career Development since introduction

Massachusetts H 4742

What the bill does: Creates a permanent commission on community-based behavioral health promotion and prevention, which will work to promote mental, emotional, and behavioral health; prevent mental health and substance use disorders among residents; and promote an understanding of trauma-informed care. Status: Became law on 8-09-18

Pennsylvania SB 1218

What the bill does: Requires school entities to provide employees with mandatory training on school safety and security, which must address trauma-informed education awareness. Status: Referred to Education Committee on 6-22-18

Pennsylvania SB 1271

What the bill does: Requires school entities to provide school employees with training on the best practices in evidence-based trauma-informed approaches; requires school employees to complete a minimum of one hour of training every year; requires elected school directors to complete a minimum of five hours of training during the first year of their term, which must include a minimum of one hour of instruction on best practices related to trauma-informed approaches to education and an additional three hours for each re-elected term. Status: Introduced on 10-02-18 and referred to Education Committee

Tennessee SB 1386

What the bill does: Requires the Department of Education to develop an evidence-based training program on ACEs for school leaders and teachers, to include trauma-informed principles and practices for classrooms. Status: Became law 4-23-18

Washington HB 2861

What the bill does: Requires that the Department of Children, Youth, and Families convene an advisory group to develop a five-year strategy to expand training in trauma-informed child care for early learning providers across the state, and to reduce expulsions from early learning environments. Status: Became law on 3-26-18


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Committee for Children advocates change in laws affecting the well-being of children across the country. From supporting federal and local legislation to helping people like you add your voice to the topics at hand, we’re dedicated to our mission of fostering the safety and well-being of children through social-emotional learning and development.

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